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Rethke Terrace exterior (copy) (copy)

Rethke Terrace is the city's biggest attempt at Housing First for single homeless adults and veterans. 

Every year, the city of Madison and Dane County allocate millions of dollars to help build affordable housing projects. Madison has supported 18 projects through the city's Affordable Housing Fund since it was created in 2014.

This year brought its share of good news for affordable housing: more funding from the county and outside sources, plus the successful opening of new affordable housing projects: 8Twenty Park at 820 S. Park St., The Breese at 1003 E Mifflin St. and The Royal at 2232 W. Broadway.

But there were difficulties as well: Madison is pressing pause on building new permanent supportive housing projects, which house vulnerable populations and have been in the spotlight for troublesome behavior.


With rising land prices and construction and labor costs, projects are getting more expensive and require larger subsidies to work, said Jim O'Keefe, director of the city’s Community Development Division.

“I’m not sure we can sustain this level of production,” O'Keefe said. “We may not be able to get the same number of units for the same amount of money as we have in the past.”

There is good news: In February, United Way of Dane County announced it was launching its own affordable housing fund with a goal to raise $3 million to help end family homelessness in Dane County. United Way officials emphasized that they don’t want to compete with or replace existing sources of funding like the city and county funds, but rather add to them.

The fund would be an addition to United Way’s current strategies to address homelessness, which include funding efforts like case management to help over 2,000 families a year navigate issues like housing searches or eviction prevention.

The county kicked up their funding as well. Thanks to a budget amendment by Dane County Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner, the Dane County Affordable Housing Development Fund increased from $3 million to $6 million in 2018.

“We know this fund is working to leverage a lot of other funding and close the gap for developers,” Wegleitner said. “We know this works, let’s do more of it.”


Thus far, Madison has two completed permanent supportive housing projects, which serve vulnerable populations like homeless singles and families. They are also the two developments that have garnered negative attention for troubling behavior.

Both facilities employ a "housing first" approach to homelessness, which attempts to provide stable housing first and then deliver other services like mental health, addiction counseling and job placement.

Heartland’s Rethke Terrace Apartments at 715 Rethke Ave. opened in 2016, and Tree Lane Family Apartments, 7933 Tree Lane, opened this June. Rethke created 60 units for formerly homeless individuals, with 25 units slated for veterans, and Tree Lane hosts 45 units for formerly homeless families.

Tree Lane in particular has been scrutinized since it opened in mid-June for behavior including fighting, partying, drinking and a non-fatal shooting. The city and Heartland Housing are working to alleviate problems; one idea includes adding additional security guards. The alder for the district, Paul Skidmore, wants the city to pursue a nuisance abatement action against the apartment complex and Heartland Housing.

This news worried residents in other neighborhoods with proposed affordable housing projects — even if those projects were for a different type of affordable housing.

A proposed four-story building by Stone House Development at 5614 Schroeder Road would provide 96 units, 81 or which would be affordable. It is not a permanent supportive housing project. There would be 10 units designated for the formerly homeless at Schroeder Road, but they are for individuals who have successfully lived in supportive housing for at least two years.

The project recently received city approvals after neighbors voiced concerns about increased traffic and crime.

“People look at what happened at Tree Lane and they wonder if there are going to be similar situations here. The answer is absolutely not,” Ald. Keith Furman, District 19 told the Cap Times.

But there is another permanent supportive housing proposal in the works at 1202 S. Park. St. Heartland Housing is the developer of the project, and neighbors have said Heartland needs to fix problems at its two other Madison properties before starting a third.

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The Park Street housing proposal was supposed to appear before the city’s Plan and Urban Design commissions in January, but has been delayed by Heartland.

“The hope is that we can, together with Heartland, resolve some of the major issues at those two other properties before we resume our quest for land use approvals at Park Street,” O’Keefe said.

There is some flexibility with the timing of the project, O’Keefe said, but said it ultimately “must be substantially completed and occupied” within three years of receiving WHEDA credits, which would put the deadline at spring of 2021.


Meanwhile, Madison has paused permanent supportive housing. Other than the 1202 Park St. project, the city is not pursuing any others at this time.

The city has “certainly learned the hard lesson” that for permanent supportive housing projects to be successful, they need to be adequately resourced, O’Keefe said.

“It’s one thing to build these properties. It’s another to be able to provide the services that residents need for them to be successful. It doesn’t make sense to continue to build until you’ve figured out how to finance those support services,” he said.

But there’s “absolutely” still a need for more permanent affordable housing, O’Keefe said.

The city’s original goal to build 1,000 units of affordable housing was supposed to include 250 units of permanent supportive housing. There are currently 105 units.

“I think all eyes are on those properties and rightfully so, and we’re going to have to prove to policymakers and prove to the residents that we can make those projects work if we’re going to continue,” O’Keefe said.

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